Monday, August 30, 2010

Blackburn changes things up

In the middle of July, mired in a five-game stint in which he had allowed 28 earned runs in 22.2 innings pitched, Nick Blackburn was desperately in need of some re-tooling. The problem was fairly evident: he simply was not changing speeds enough

This was something that pitching coach Rick Anderson encouraged as far back into the season as June. At that time, opponents were slaughtering his fastball. Even with the mounting evidence and direction from his coaching staff, Blackburn stuck to his two-seam fastball that continued to be belted across the universe.

Now, after Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Seattle, Blackburn has made two consecutive quality starts. In those outings, the righty has worked 15.2 innings, allowing 10 hits while striking out 11 and walking two. This resurgence, notes La Velle E Neal, stems from Blackburn rekindling his relationship with the changeup, “tinkering” with the pitch in his starts in Rochester.

Looking back at his pitch usage, the data confirms that he has used the changeup more frequently since his recall:

Blackburn’s Assortment:
8/28 @SEA
8/23 @TEX
7/28 @BAL
7/18 vs CWS
7/10 @ DET
Said Blackburn after this past weekend’s near complete-game, shutout against Seattle: 
"Joe [Mauer] and I had these guys off balance, and they just weren't putting good swings on the ball. I was throwing pitches down the middle and they were looking for something else, and it was good. It was fun.''
Essentially, this was the byproduct of changing speeds better. As I stated back in July
“If you miss your spots, as Blackburn has done so routinely recently, the damage may be minimized by messing with the hitters’ timing. If you are missing spots and throwing at the same speed constantly, professional hitters will hammer those pitches. While location remains supremely important, if there is a deviation in velocity or break, this may incite hitters to commit too early to a pitch they would otherwise drive, turning it over on the ground. When Blackburn was tearing through opponents in May, he rarely showed the same reliance on his fastball in succession.”
In order to continue this success into the fall, Blackburn needs to commit to varying his speeds consistently. Good start so far.